Yesterday The Rt. Rev. Dr. Michael Nazir-Ali, Bishop of Rochester (England) dropped by Common Grounds at Truro for an informal conversation about issues facing the church. It was very last minute – Bishop Michael was lecturing at Georgetown University in Washington, but had a few hours before he caught his plane back to London. Harry sent out a T-mail inviting anyone who wanted to drop into Common Grounds to gather with Bishop Michael for the discussion. In particular, Bishop Michael, born in Pakistan and a convert from Islam, talked about relationships between Muslims and Christians, but he also talked about the current crisis in the Anglican Communion as we prepare for General Convention in June.
I did my first experiment with recording the discussion as a podcast. I learned a lot!
#1 When your alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning (which is the usual wake up time), do not just shut it off but reset it.
#2 Arrive at the site an hour earlier for setup and testing (see #1).
#3 Make sure the iSight mic is working over the internal mic, especially in crowded rooms.
#4 Sit near to the main speaker so that he doesn’t sound like he’s lost in a train station.
#5 Figure out how to do markers during the discussion for easy referral during editing.
#6 Remember that there will be editing.
#7 Remember that Garage Band allows for an hour of taping.
#8 Have back-up iPod with iTalk ready in case discussion goes over an hour.
#9 Do not rustle papers or chuckle during recording – even if presenter gives you papers or makes you laugh.
#10 Consider gathering around tables to bring everyone closer together, like in a cafe.
Bishop Michael is just positively brilliant. He was able to make the scriptural case in favor of women’s ordination in fifteen minutes and then dismantle the case to ordain or consecrate those who are unmarried and not celibate in five, making a clear case about why the two are not the same. It was stunning – and he did it graciously. His comprehension of not only the width and breath of Scripture but his understand of church history and the place for revelation was stunning. He’s also has an ironic wit, which is quite disarming.
A highlight for me was how he characterized our current crisis as one about revelation (which is different from how it is usually characterized as being about the authority of scripture). I found that quite compelling – how do we discern revelation in the church? It is clear that the Christian faith is a living faith which finds its identity not in the law but in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. This means that our faith is personal – not private – but personal, which means the Holy Spirit is speaking. Bishop Michael said that the Holy Spirit does not contradict Himself but aligns Himself with Christ – and so He will not contradict Scripture. The Gospel of John, he said, makes this very clear. If God is a new thing, He will not contradict what He has all ready done and said. The Scriptures are quite clear about what it means to live a holy life, as well as what the sacrament of marriage means not only to men and women, but as the primary illustration of God’s relationship to His people.
After the discussion, about ten of us gathered over at Artie’s for lunch. It was a sobering discussion as we talked about the relationship between the COE leadership and evangelicals in England. It was clear that the crisis we face in the Episcopal Church in the US is matched by similar issues facing the Church of England.
But one of the major points Bishop Michael made – and one that gave me much hope – is to see what it may be that God is doing in a larger picture. While we may be feeling alienated by the denominations we belong to, a realignment of historical proportions seems to be underway as Protestants, Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and the Eastern Orthodox forge relationships of common mission in the historic understanding of Christianity. Bishop Michael described attending Pope John Paul I’s funeral and being struck by the sermon as being extraordinarily evangelical – in fact, he said, that sermon would not be given in the Church of England. The official representative from the Billy Graham organization was sitting near Bishop Michael and whispered that he wondered if there would be an altar call. The picture Bishop Michael painted of such unity of purpose on the grounds of the Vatican is quite extraordinary. Even as relations have deteriorated in the official channels between the different branches of Christianity due to the long march of revisionism, unofficially the bonds are being strengthened with those who hold fast to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the scriptures.